- David A. Williams
- 2002 12 Dec
A gentleman went to church one Sunday with his wife and heard the minister preach about the man who built his house on sand. At the end of the service, the gentleman went up to pastor and said, "I am that man.”
When word got out that Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the finest cavalryman the Confederacy ever had and the first Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan had come to Christ, reactions were mixed. Many Christians rejoiced that such a man with a mixed past had been converted. Others, many not self-processed Christians, doubted that Forrest, whose reputation was that of a hard and no-holds barred fighter, could ever be genuinely converted.
However, Forrest, like many in history with infamous public images, had truly came to Christ.
In more recent years, individuals with similarly blemished public personas have been won to the Lord and, like Forrest, have been met with incredulity.
When Chuck Colson, the notorious henchman of the Nixon White House who boasted that he would walk on his grandmother's grave for the President became born again, the public response was almost uniformly negative. Washington insiders and late night comics greeted his conversion with scorn, claiming that he was getting "religion" just to get a lighter prison sentence. History shows that Colson's born again experience did not curry favor with the court. Founding the Prison Fellowship ministry upon his release further confirmed Colson’s genuine decision for Christ.
A more recent “hated convert” was Karla Faye Tucker. Miss Tucker was executed Feb. 3, 1998 in Texas for a gruesome murder. Tucker and her boyfriend had wielded a pickax 20 times into the bodies of Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton. Tucker claimed that the killings gave her sexual ecstasy. At her trial, she did not claim to be innocent.
But during her stay in prison awaiting execution, Tucker made a public profession of Christ. Again the claim of becoming a Christian by such a despised person produced a mixed response. There were those who said that this was a case of "jailhouse religion," designed to produce a clemency of the death sentence (Tucker, in fact asked for mercy in that she had genuinely had her life turned around). Others were convinced that she had become a Christian.
The expected execution divided individuals who normally are death penalty supporters such as Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson. Yet, even among those who still supported execution for Miss Tucker, the consensus by most is that Karla Faye lived a Christian witness up to and including the very end.
Probably the most notorious hated convert to Christianity was the Apostle Paul. By his own admission he was a zealous persecutor of the Christians. "On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." (Acts 26:10-11).
When Stephen was stoned by the Sanhedrin, Paul (then Saul) guarded the clothes of the stoners and gave approval to Stephen's death (Acts 7:58, 8:1).
After Paul's conversion "when he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple" (Acts 9:26).
Why is it that most people act incredulously when they hear that a notorious person has come to Christ? Perhaps it is because they believe that only "good" people go to heaven. That is, in order to get to heaven one must perform good works.
But the Bible says, "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins" (Eccles. 7:20). Jesus said, "No one is good -- except God alone" (Mark 10:18). In fact, all of our righteous acts are as "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
Salvation can come only by faith (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 3:22), by believing in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). This is a concept so simple, yet profound. The Apostle Paul commented on the world's resistance to God's simple plan of salvation when he said, "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. ... a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:21,23).
Therefore it is not surprising today when the world reacts negatively and even with sarcasm at those "notorious" sinners who have come to Christ. It has always been so. For those of us who are already Christians, the difference between our former condition and that of the "hated" converts is only in the notoriety of the sins. But for the grace of God we would have been them.
David A. Williams is a layman from Fort Worth, Texas. He has served as a news commentator on public television in Texas and Virginia, and was a Speech Writer, Confidential Assistant for External Affairs and a Legislative Liaison in the Reagan Administration.